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Friday, November 29, 2013

JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR -- Blu-ray review by porfle

With his latest Southern-fried saga, Billy Bob Thornton has heated up his very own hot tin roof and tossed on a whole carload of jittery cats.  JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR (2012), that is.

Billy Bob even name-checks Tennessee Williams at one point in the dialogue, but he might as well be ringing the venerable playwright's doorbell and running away.  Although his movie is loaded with familiar Southern stereotypes mixing it up with each other in the humid plantation-like halls of 1969 Alabama, the story is mainly an unfocused mix of turgid drama and near-farcical nonsense.

Robert Duvall is Big Daddy--I mean, Jim Caldwell, the narrowminded, hardheaded patriarch of a well-to-do but highly dysfunctional family.  Former army medic Jim has two sons who are also military vets--Carroll (Kevin Bacon), whose tour of duty has turned him into a longhaired peace protester, and the addlebrained Skip (Billy Bob), a decorated flying ace still living at home and letting life pass him by.  The only son Jim doesn't constantly butt generational heads with is non-military family man Jimbo (Robert Patrick), who in another life would be played by Jack Carson.  (An almost unrecognizable Shawnee Smith should delight her fans in the role of Jimbo's deceptively mild-mannered wife.)

While hashing over their usual dinner-table conflicts, they get a call informing them that former Caldwell matriarch Naomi, who long ago left Jim for a British gentleman named Kingsley Bedford (John Hurt), has died.  Since her last request was to be buried in her hometown, this means that Kingsley, his son Phillip (Ray Stevenson, KILL THE IRISHMAN), and daughter Camilla (Frances O'Connor, A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE) are on their way to Alabama to meet the Caldwells.  This is gonna be good, right?

Well, it's eventful, anyway.  Jim's problems with his sons bring similar resentments between Kingsley and Phillip to the surface, while this and other factors begin to draw the two older men closer together.  Skip and his brassy-blonde sister Donna (Katherine LaNasa), unhappily married to a fat boor who takes her for granted, find Camilla and Phillip's Britishness irresistible.  The script garnishes all of this with a variety of other seriocomic events hovering around the periphery like moths to a porchlight.

The story by Thornton and Tom Epperson tries to say something profound about Jim's obession with deadly auto accidents, which he visits after listening Godlike to his police band radio.  "There was a soul in this Volkswagen a little while ago," he gravely tells a highway cop as they gaze upon one such mishap.  "Now there ain't nothin' but a voice-throwed dummy a-layin' there."  Not only did this have me wondering "who talks like that?" but I spent much of the film trying to figure out the significance of his car-crash hangup. 

Meanwhile, Thornton fills JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR with more awkward, artificial dialogue being spoken by actors "playing" Southerners the way people play Hobbits and other fantasy creatures.  If Katherine LaNasa's "Donna" were any more of a faded Southern belle she'd have to have a trademark stamp.  As for Skip, his random, blathering monologues to Camilla are simply pointless until he finally, almost out of the blue, says something meaningful enough to surprise both her and us. 

But just when we think the film might be getting kind of deep, it cuts to Skip, his lip bleeding where he's bitten right through it, furiously masturbating to Camilla while she recites poetry in her British accent, naked.  We all know Billy Bob Thornton is a good writer--at least, us SLING BLADE fans do--but here, as in much of this wildly uneven narrative, he comes off like Horton Foote with Tourette's Syndrome.

The Blu-ray from Anchor Bay is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  A behind-the-scenes featurette is the sole extra.

I wanted to like JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR and, indeed, I did enjoy certain elements of it.  But like the cultural and generational differences among its characters, those elements just didn't get along very well.

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